If you’ve recently been bitten by the running bug, you’re probably already setting new goals for yourself. Perhaps you’ve even dreamed of the day you’ll run your first marathon. But before you set your sights too high, it’s important to hone the fundamentals, because in so doing, you’ll have a better shot at progressing to the point where the idea of actually running a marathon (or even a half-marathon) is more than just a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream.
Trying to perform in any endeavor at a level that’s beyond your true capabilities is bound to result in failure, and failure where running is concerned can mean injuries that can sideline you and even end your running dreams altogether!
Taking the time to create a foundation of good form will put you in a better place to start planning for your goals. Just as a baby must learn to crawl before he can walk, a runner needs to learn how to run correctly before she can run effectively in an event!
Here are some tips to paying attention to your form:
Look ahead. Focus on the ground 10-20 feet ahead rather than watching your feet.
Land right. Land on the middle of your foot and then push through the toes to propel forward.
Keep your feet facing forward. Running with your toes pointed out or in can lead to injuries.
Keep your hands at waist level. Many runners tend to scrunch their shoulders while trying to hold their hands up toward their chests, which can lead to shoulder and neck tension and make you tire more quickly as well.
Relax arms and hands. If you keep your hands in a tight fist, you’ll end up with sore, tight muscles in your arms, hands and neck.
Watch your posture. Keep your head up, shoulders even and relaxed under your ears, and your back straight. It’s common to begin to slump as you tire, so check your posture every so often as you run.
Rotate your arms from the shoulder — not the elbow!
Don’t “bounce”. Take short, light steps and try to keep your stride low to the ground. Excessive up-and-down movement not only wastes energy, but is also hard on the joints (i.e., your lower back, hips and knees).
Keep your arms at your side, and don’t let them swing in front of your body, since this can cause you to slouch and make your breathing shallow. The result of breathing too shallowly is a side stitch or abdominal cramps, so this is a really important component of good running form!
Practice by focusing on one step a day, and eventually you’ll learn what part of your running form needs more work.
Working Towards Your First Event
If you’re looking to run in a timed or distanced event, it’s best to set your goals realistically, such as a 5K race. 5Ks are good for beginners since the risk of injury increases with increased mileage. In fact, research has shown running for too many (more than 2.5) hours per week, 2-3 days per week is actually counter-productive from a cardiac health standpoint.
You’ll also have to commit to some extra training to prepare for your first race since endurance is a big part. There are many on-line training programs targeted for your running level (beginner, intermediate or advanced). Most training programs will have you running at least four days a week.
Whether you’re running for fitness, for the mental “high” it gives you, or because you’ve discovered you just love to run, stay focused on your form and challenge yourself to push beyond your limits only on occasion!